Dear Ms. O’Keefe:
Your books were recommended to me a year or so ago and I burned through The Mitchells of Riverview Inn series and then I tried to read the O’Neill trilogy and I couldn’t finish even one of them. However, I still wanted to give your books another shot and so I bought this book when I was over at eHarlequin purchasing another Harlequin Superromance. It was marriage of convenience with friends to lovers tropes smushed together. How could I not buy it? It was tailor made to match some of my favorite tropes.
Jack McKibbon is the head of research at Cal Poly in the hydro-engineering department. He and his colleague, Oliver, go around the world installing water systems in under developed countries. Their efforts bring prestige to the university but little money and so Jack and Oliver have to come back to the university at various times to attend fundraising events. From time to time, Jack gets his friend Mia Alatore to attend with him. Mia, his wife.
Mia and Jack grew up together on Jack’s family’s ranch. Mia’s mother was the cook and her father, the foreman. While Mia’s roots are deep in the Rocky M, Jack has spent his whole life running from his past; from his abusive mother; his weak father; and his terrible childhood. When Mia’s father died, Jack married Mia in order to provide her security on the ranch or so he thinks.
Mia, however, married Jack because she had always loved him. But seeing Jack only a few times a year, being constantly treated as a “friend” and not a lover, has worn Mia’s emotions down where just being near Jack hurts more than being separated from him. After one night in which Mia lives out her deep fantasies of being more than a friend with Jack, Mia resolves to file for divorce. This plan is to put on hold when Jack comes to the ranch, injured physically and emotionally after being caught in the crossfire of a regional military conflict in Africa.
Jack doesn’t want to come to the ranch, but he really has no where to go. His father is there, still an alcoholic but now suffering from Parkinson disease. The ranch appears to be dying and Mia is very unhappy, struggling to keep the ranch afloat and Jack’s father alive.
Jack and Mia are very different people and it was interesting to see how different they were despite the fact that they grew up in virtually the same household. Jack was driven away from his home by his poor childhood and his anger, hatred, disgust, and yes, love for his father who failed to protect Jack time and again. Mia was so firmly rooted in the ranch, though, that she knew little else. The only time that she took chances or stepped outside her comfort zone was when Jack pushed her. He pushed her when she was a child and then a teen but only occasionally as an adult.
I felt that some of the pain that Mia felt with Jack when she was an adult and outside the ranch was a pain of newness and risk taking, not just the heart pain of being near someone she loved so dearly and who she thought didn’t return her own feelings.
In one sense, this book is a series of one night events. The one night that led Jack to marry Mia. The one night that Mia and Jack share. The one night that pushes Jack back home. Jack and Mia both kind of live in a moment even though Mia’s moments are just keeping the ranch alive. Their unsettled feelings for each other; their personal fears prevent them from looking forward.
While I ordinarily am not a fan of the “forgive to move on” theme, I did believe in this story that Jack would never be able to forge a future with Mia without coming to terms with his past. I felt ambivalent toward Jack’s dad which is how I think I was supposed to feel. Jack’s father has never fought for anything in his life, including his young son. When we see Jack’s dad, he is drunk and his mentally acuity is fast debilitating. On the one hand, I felt sorry for Jack’s father but on the other hand, Jack’s father brought his own misery home to roost.
It was easy to see Jack and Mia’s friendship metamorphosis into love. It had the seeds of the romantic feelings before they even married and as they grew older, those seeds blossomed into a full fledged adult relationship, one that would likely have matured earlier had Jack not been running so fast and Mia hadn’t been so scared of the world outside the ranch.
There’s an underlying and unresolved relationship drama involved Jack’s father and Mia’s mother. I felt that was right for the story because I just was ready to consent to Jack’s father getting an HEA just yet. Jack’s life had been a living hell because of his father’s inaction and while Jack and Mia might have been ready to forgive, I wasn’t. Just not yet.
I ended this book anxious for the next in the series (which I believe involves Mia’s sister and a nearby rancher) and felt like my money was well spent. Can’t ask much more from a book than that. B